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Teens and Cell Phone Safety

Parental Role is Key to Safe Driving

Teen Driver.Young drivers climb behind the wheel of the family car at about the age of 16. Today nearly half of young drivers have a personal cell phone in tow—those techno-packed, lifestyle communication devices that, besides imparting a cool-factor, also seem a cultural necessity. Has anyone urged them to just say no to cell phones when driving?

Teens migrate seamlessly between digital and analog realms on a daily basis. Appealing to their sensibilities may not be easy, but there are numerous outlets for solid information about proper cell phone use. The parental factor is often overlooked, but when it comes to learned driving habits results seem otherwise. In a rather telling survey by Liberty Mutual Insurance and Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD), 60% of teens polled claim their biggest influences when it comes to driving have been their parents. But of what value are those influences?

Survey Says…

When asked to list specific behaviors their parents engaged in while driving, teens’ top responses included cell phone use, speeding, and not wearing a seat belt. The really alarming segment of the survey, though, was the beliefs teens held about each of the behaviors. Teens reported they engaged as often in the same behaviors AND between 29 and 33 percent of respondents said that they didn’t view cell phone use, speeding, or not wearing a seat belt as inherently unsafe.1

These results suggest that teens learn driving behaviors for the most part from their parents. In the article, “Consumer cell phone Safety Education,” we examine how best to engage adults and parents of teens in safe cell phone use. If these poll results are accurate, parental intervention is a must in order to head off what’s becoming unsafe driving DNA.

Looking for a Leader

Outside of parents, though, whom do teens trust for accurate and authoritative information? Most young adults are today very critical of information and the sources that provide it. An adult who stands up in a Drivers’ Education class and tells kids to avoid making calls or texting while driving because it’s unsafe makes no point at all. Pencils tap and eyes stare into outer space.

In a drivers’ ed class in North Liberty, Iowa, an instructor that knows his lectures alone are useless puts his students into driving simulators and makes them use cell phones while they navigate a course. His class learns very quickly that even the simplest distraction costs them critical seconds on the road and in reaction time.

Sprint Creates Campaign for Teen Driver Safety

Focus On Driving is a Sprint-Nextel designed safe driver campaign intended to hit home with teens. The multimedia program is packaged for high school driver education classes and has gradually been rolled out in a limited number of states over the last couple of years. The series of classroom posters for the program illustrate typical teen distractions: fast food, cell phones, makeup, and CDs. The message: handling any one of these hardly matches up to the responsibility of commandeering a 2,800 pound car.

In our article on “cell phone Manufacturers,” see what other makers are doing to educate drivers.

Legislating Teen Cell Phone Use

Some states already have cell phone restrictions in place for young drivers, but according to a story from MTV News the National Transportation Safety Board wants all states to follow suit. The NTSB remarked that the 120 teen deaths due to car crashes each month in the U.S. is just too many. How many of those are the result of cell phone distractions is unknown, but the emphasis is on lack of experience among novice drivers. Teens who use cell phones should be instead fully concentrating on driving.

Most experts suggest teens’ skills are not nearly sharpened enough to introduce driver distractions outside those already present, both inside and outside the vehicle. A University of Utah study announced that teens behind the wheel with cell phones drive like “old folks.” The study was a serious attempt to show how compromised an inexperienced driver becomes when a major distraction is introduced. Pick up a cell phone while you’re driving and you “age yourself by 50 years.”

Do You DWT?

The newest danger on the road is quickly attributed to teens, but business professionals wielding PDAs and techno-packed Blackberrys are another big population of offenders when it comes to text messaging.

Teens have been perfecting text messaging and the associated short-hand for a few years now—it’s one of the most convenient and private ways to send messages to friends on the fly and under the radar of teachers and parents. But if you’ve ever tried driving while texting (DWT) you’d have to admit that it constantly demands that you take your eyes off the roadway both to type and to read responses.

The Nationwide Insurance survey on distracted driving revealed that besides a host of other distractions, texting was practiced among 37% of drivers in their teens to early 20s. After this the number dropped by almost half.

Washington State is the first to enact anti-texting laws while driving. How this will be effectively enforced is anybody’s guess. Maybe the best solution lies with parents.

  1. “Teens Inherit Parents Bad Driving Habits,” Teens Today, August 2004, http://www.sadd.org/teenstoday/parentsdriving.htm.

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